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World News

Voices from Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Karabakh conflict

(Reuters) - A conflict with its origins in the collapse of the Soviet Union has re-erupted this week.

The fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh - a mountain enclave inside Azerbaijan that is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians and broke away in the 1990s - is the worst in more than a quarter of a century.

With Armenia and Azerbaijan in danger of all-out war that could risk drawing in Turkey and Russia, Reuters spoke to ordinary people on the streets of both capitals, and in the zones affected by the fighting.

AZERBAIJAN, BAKU

Cahanquba Quliyeva, 28-year-old architect: “Our generation has had a hard time. I have a young husband, a brother. I’m worried about them. They can be called up to the front at any time. We only saw this in the movies. And now we are going through that ourselves in real life. There is no peaceful solution to this conflict. If it could have worked, it would have happened in the last 30 years.”

Zahra Ahundlu, 47, a doctor: “I remember very well how it all began. My brother died at the front. We raised his son, who is 25 years old now. And he volunteered for the front. This is the irony of fate. I’m very afraid of losing him. Let this conflict be resolved peacefully. (French President Emmanuel) Macron says ‘Stop the war.’ But who wants to fight? Let him tell Armenia to liberate the territories that they have occupied. Why does no one ask them what they are doing on the territory of Azerbaijan? Let our districts be liberated and we will lay down our arms.”

Mirmakhmud Kamran, 35, a banker: “Our grandfathers used to live with the Armenians peacefully. Macron tells our president now what to do. And what has France done over these 30 years? Nothing. What did Russia or the United States do? Besides Turkey, we have no other friend. They’re all afraid of Turkey and so they turn the whole world against Turkey. We do not need the help of the Turks, we ourselves can stand up for our homeland.”

Khalid Amirbekov, 71, a pensioner: “I don’t want there to be a war. I do not want young guys to die from either side. You cannot be so stupid as to be led by political forces ... I urge both peoples to come to their senses. We don’t need Russia, France and America here.”

TERTER REGION IN AZERBAIJAN, NOT FAR FROM DE-FACTO BOUNDARY LINE WITH NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Mansur Aliyev, resident of village of Shykh Arkh: “Our village has been heavily shelled ... But we are not afraid. We are ready for all surprises and are not going to leave the place where we live.”

Sanuber Guliyeva, resident of Terter: “Our house was completely destroyed by an artillery shell, we had nothing left. We’ve lost everything. We live under bullets. This is the situation. There has been shooting since Sunday morning.”

ARMENIA, YEREVAN

Narine Vardazaryan, 30, a linguist: “We should keep going till the end, till the moment that we establish peace. I’d very much prefer that we reach peace through negotiations, but I don’t think we’re dealing with a nation that wants to solve this problem through peaceful negotiations. Even if there are negotiations, we should negotiate that our lands stay ours, because our people live there peacefully and we have 2,000-year-old monasteries there ... I’m sorry for the Azeri people, sorry that they have to hear so much hatred. They should live in their land peacefully ... I don’t want this conflict to turn into full-scale war.”

Lusine Pepanyan, 20, psychologist: “The escalation of the conflict has directly affected us - everyone we know is somehow affected because of it... And we should rely on ourselves only - as history has shown, in these tense situations historically we have always been left on our own. So we should solve our problems ourselves.”

Hakobyan Abrahamyan, 70, taxi driver and former police officer: “I think this issue should be resolved through negotiations ... I think this won’t expand into a regional war. I think this question will be resolved through negotiations. I’m sorry for our soldiers and their families as well as for the Azeri soldiers.”

Eduard Vlasyan, 30, food technologist: “You need to create an environment for negotiations, and start from somewhere, but the solution has not been reached. That’s why Azerbaijan decided to achieve something by force, but at this moment it’s failing. Of course, it is tragic that people die there, but it is what it is. At this moment this is a full-scale war ... If we give Karabakh to them, they will demand Armenia next time.”

Karine Mnatsakanyan, 55, linguist, an Armenian from the diaspora who came to Yerevan to live and work: “We know that Turkey has initiated this war. It is clear that if it was only Azerbaijan, I believe the war would end in three days with, of course, our victory. I mourn our loss of so many sons, I can’t sleep without tears. But I am also proud and happy that we have such sons. Glory to them. I know only one thing, we need to destroy our enemies.”

STEPANAKERT, NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Gegham Bagdasaryan, a journalist: “We hear air raids several times a day. People are hiding in bomb shelters, some stay there overnight. Many men volunteered to be next to their sons, to support and cheer them up. There is no panic. We have experience of living under bombing and we still remember the first war very well. There is no telephone communication as Karabakh Telecom has been damaged, but the Internet works.”

Reporting by Nailia Bagirova, Nvard Hovhannisyan and Margarita Antidze, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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